Columbus splits pair of games

March 29, 2009

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


Bad things aren''t happening once a game this season for the Columbus High School baseball team. 


In some cases, like in Columbus'' 16-6 victory against West Point in five innings Saturday afternoon, the Falcons make enough positive things happen to outweigh the negatives. 


But the momentum doesn''t last. 


In other instances, like in a 12-2 loss in five innings to South Panola on Saturday night, the Falcons can''t overcome mistakes that seem to snowball out of control. 


In the nightcap, Columbus (7-8, 0-4 Class 5A-District 2) had only four hits, committed six errors, and walked seven. 


"It is something we haven''t learned to do, after we make one mistake somebody has to step up and make the next play," Columbus coach Jeffrey Cook said. "We didn''t tonight. Guys who haven''t been making errors made them tonight. It''s frustrating the way we played. They scored 12 runs on six hits." 


Cook hoped the Falcons would carry the momentum from their effort against the Green Wave into the evening. Columbus had only seven hits against West Point, but capitalized on nine walks and used aggressive baserunning to make things happen. 


Bad things only happened to Columbus against South Panola. 


The first inning set the tone. Senior Billy Autrey, who has pitched predominantly in the closer''s role this season, earned the start and allowed a leadoff single to David Renfroe. Renfroe, who has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Mississippi, stole second and went to third after the ball got past catcher Josh Tentoni. Corbin Moore walked and stole second, but Autrey struck out Ethan Bright (a Mississippi State signee) and Lee Self. 


The only problem was Tentoni couldn''t handle the third strike to Self, which allowed Renfroe to score and Moore to go to third. Tentoni recovered in time and still had time to retire Self at first, but his throw was wide of the base, allowing Moore to score. 


A hit by pitch, a stolen base, a single, an error on a dropped throw to first base, and a sacrifice helped South Panola (9-5, 2-1) tack on two more runs in the second. 


South Panola coach Patrick Robey said his team tries to put the ball in play and pressure each opponent into making mistakes. He said South Panola hasn''t hit the ball like he thinks it can this season, but he knows good things can happen when teams are forced to have to make a lot of plays. 


"Putting the ball in play and having guys who really hustle down the line puts a lot of pressure on the defense," Robey said. "We have had some success by bunting and stealing some bases."  


Matt Hendrix scattered four hits and struck out five in five innings to get the victory. 


Columbus stranded runners at second and first in its initial at-bat before answering with a run in the bottom of the second. Stefan Hairston singled, moved to second on a passed ball, and scored on a single by Dylan Anderson (two hits, triple). 


Shortstop Avery Ford made a fine play ranging to his left and going behind second base to retire Self to end the third. 


South Panola tacked on two more runs on two hits and an error in the fourth and then put the game away against Tyji Hawkins in the fifth. The Tigers had only one hit but took advantage of three errors and six walks to score six runs. 


"We''re there to make plays," Cook said. "We''re in the right situations. It''s pitching and catching. These aren''t hard plays. These are routine plays. You have to pitch and catch. It''s an easy game." 


Cook said different things happen to different players every game. He said one player rebounds from a bad game and has a good game, but someone will take his place and commit a mistake or an error that seems to be the first domino in many that fall the wrong way for the Falcons. 


Unfortunately, Autrey wasn''t able to pitch around the problems. 


"We didn''t make the plays behind him," Cook said. "I thought he pitched outstanding. He gave up two hits. One was an infield hit and one was a two-strike hit up the middle. They shouldn''t have scored in the first inning." 


Columbus applied the pressure in its first game of the day. 


The Falcons scored four runs in the first and added three more in the second en route to the mercy-rule victory. 


Columbus scored seven runs in the top two spots in the lineup. Anderson walked three times and Tentoni doubled and had two RBIs. 


Nick Durrah (two RBIs) was the only Columbus player with two hits. Autrey had two RBIs, and Hawkins, Hairston, and Tyler Mason added RBIs. 


"We took advantage of a couple of mistakes they made, and I thought we ran the bases really well except for one play," Cook said. "We were very aggressive taking the extra bases on dirt-ball reads and we had some clutch hits in some key situations. I was proud of our pitchers who threw strikes and did a good job." 


The victory didn''t disguise the fact that Columbus had five errors and could have put itself in position for more bad things to happen. 


"It is like there is no gray area. We look really good or really bad," Cook said. "We have to get away from those really bad innings." 


Cook said he can''t explain how the Falcons fall prey to mental mistakes in one inning. He said one mistake tends to get the team down and one mistake compounds itself and the players start to press and things get even worse. 


Buddy Wyers is seeing similar things happen to his West Point players. 


The former Columbus High assistant coach is in his third season with the Green Wave and is trying to build a program. But Wyers doesn''t want to rely on excuses. He wants results. 


"I get tired hearing people say, ''You''re young,'' " Wyers said. "But if you''re young and you come out here and you''re physically getting your tail beat, that''s one thing. But if you come out here and you''re beating yourself all of the time, I am not buying any of that crap that ''you''re young.'' " 


Wyers said he had to get rid of several players who could have helped the program. He said he had to ask those players to leave because he feels they would have set a bad example for the younger players.  


Wyers said the Green Wave have to get more kids out who can play. He said parents are helping players improve, and he is trying to keep West Point players together during the offseason. 


Wyers said keeping the players together will build chemistry and help the program take the next step. 


"We don''t play hard," Wyers said. "It drives me crazy. Some of them do (play hard) and some of them don''t, but when they all don''t it doesn''t matter. I try to make them understand that physical things are going to happen. When you do that playing hard, good things are going to happen at some point. We just have to get some of these guys to understand that and try to get some more intensity and more enthusiasm and get them to start to play a little harder." 


West Point outhit Columbus 8-7 but committed four errors. Will Owens was the only player with two hits. Demontez Calvert hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. Edward Cox, Tommy Keys, and Dalentez Pulliam had RBIs. 


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.